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First Black Chief Judge of U.S. District Court Dies

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Associated Press Writer
Monday, November 14, 2005; 8:18 PM

WASHINGTON (AP)  Judge William B. Bryant, the first black man to serve as chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, died Sunday. He was 94.

Bryant, who continued hearing cases as a senior judge until recently, died Sunday night, court spokesman Sheldon Snook said.

President Lyndon B. Johnson nominated Bryant to the federal bench in 1965, after Bryant distinguished himself in private practice and as a federal prosecutor in Washington. He was first hired as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for D.C. in 1951  long before Justice Thurgood Marshall was considered for the Supreme Court.

"Throughout his long and distinguished career, Judge Bryant sought to achieve equal justice , always careful to preserve the dignity of those who appeared before him," said U.S. District Court Chief Judge Thomas F. Hogan. "Judge Bryant was the soul of the court and will be greatly missed."

On Friday, President Bush signed legislation that will name a new $110 million, nine-courtroom addition to the federal courthouse in Bryant's honor  a measure introduced by D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton along with legislation to name a federal building in Detroit for Rosa Parks.

"District residents revere Judge Bryant as a Washingtonian who spent his life overcoming racial odds to represent residents with such excellence that the bar and the legal establishment itself had to admit him," Norton said Monday.

Bryant was known for his dedication to Constitutional law and believed that lawyers could stop injustice.

"Without lawyers, this is just a piece of paper," Bryant said of the Constitution in an interview with The Washington Post last year. "If it weren't for lawyers, I'd still be three-fifths of a man. If it weren't for lawyers, we'd still have signs directing people this way and that, based on the color of their skin."

Bryant was born in Alabama but moved to Washington at soon after his first birthday. He graduated from the then-segregated D.C. Public Schools, Howard University and Howard University Law School.

He remained active at the law school where he taught for more than 20 years, said Howard University President H. Patrick Swygert, who was one of Bryant's students.

"He was one of the great legal minds and pioneers of justice," Swygert said. "He will be greatly missed." Bryant's wife of 60 years, Astaire, died in 1997.

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